Former England captain and popular television commentator Tony Greig has died aged 66 after suffering a heart attack in Sydney.
A much-loved voice of the game across the world, he played 58 Tests for England from 1972 to 1977, including 14 as skipper, before relinquishing the captaincy to join up with Australian media mogul Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series.
After retiring from the game, Greig went on to become one of the popular and distinctive voices in cricket television commentary, working primarily for Australian network Channel Nine on their coverage of home Tests and limited overs matches for more than 30 years.
The South Africa-born 66-year-old was diagnosed with lung cancer two months ago. He died at about 1.45pm local time on Saturday, December 29, after being rushed from his home to St Vincent’s Hospital earlier in the day.
All-rounder Greig, who stood 6ft 6in, scored 3,599 Test runs at an average of 40.43. He took 141 wickets with his off-spin and medium pace, and was named one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1975.
Greig, who played for Sussex and qualified for England through his Scottish parents, provoked controversy in 1976 when, as England captain, he famously said he intended to make the all-conquering West Indies “grovel” in the home Test series.
England were soundly beaten 3-0 in that series, but the following winter he led them to their first series victory in India since the Second World War.Tributes paid to Tony Greig Report by Lauren Hood – Courtesy of ITN
After presiding over three wins, six draws and five defeats he quit the England captaincy in 1977 and moved to Australia to link up with Kerry Packer’s breakaway competition, which promised to revolutionise the image and broaden the appeal of the sport.
Greig was a central figure in recruiting several England players for the controversial World Series, which ran in opposition to Test cricket from 1977 to 1979.
Media tycoon Packer’s rebel series was his response to the Australian Cricket Board’s refusal to give his Nine Network exclusive Test broadcast rights.
It featured international stars earning much higher salaries and dragged the sport into the modern era.
Athough several players were banned from representing their country, World Series Cricket helped improve the sport with increased player wages and presentational changes, such as the introduction of coloured clothing and floodlight matches.
Greig lived in Sydney from the late 1970s until his death and became a popular voice around the world with his enthusiastic and opinionated broadcasting style for Channel Nine, where he sat alongside legendary names such as Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell and Richie Benaud in the commentary box for 30 years.
Often seen wearing a large panama hat and inserting car keys into playing surfaces as part of his pitch reports, Greig’s energetic style formed a key part of the fresh approach to cricket broadcasting that Channel Nine adopted after it eventually acquired the rights to broadcast Australian cricket from 1979.
Away from Australian television, Greig also commentated for ESPN Star Sports as part of its world feed team on several ICC one-day international events such as World Cups and Twenty20 competitions.
Greig was also involved with Sky Sports from the birth of their live cricket output, presenting its coverage of the first England overseas tour to be televised live in the UK – the 1990 tour of the West Indies.
In 2005, he was invited to join the Channel 4 commentary team for its coverage of the thrilling Ashes series, his last major commentary role in England.
Tributes have poured to ‘Greigy’, as he was affectionately known, from across the world of cricket, including Australian captain Michael Clarke, who described Grieg as “a great mentor”.
Long-time Channel Nine colleague and friend Bill Lawry told APP: “World cricket has lost not only a great allrounder as captain of England but a man who has promoted cricket right around the world.
“He was just as popular in Sri Lanka, India, Dubai, whatever, with his television coverage over the past 35 years as he was as captain of England as a player.
“His worldwide contribution to the game of cricket has been enormous.
“He has become a great Australian, a nationalised Australian, a proud Australian and a wonderful ambassador for the game of cricket.
“The Australian crowd loved him because he was competitive. He played like an Australian.
“All the Nine commentary team are my friends but Greigy was my closest friend from the moment he walked into the box 33 years ago after two years of World Series Cricket as a player.
“I missed Tony this summer just in the commentary team and now he’s gone forever.”
Richie Benaud was the one who delivered news of Greig’s death to the rest of the Channel Nine commentary team.
He told Channel Nine: “When he played cricket, he was big and he did big things.
“And he didn’t care about anyone else who was bigger or perhaps might even be faster or anything like that. He would just get in there and fight.”
Greig first became aware of his illness during Australia’s one-day series against Pakistan in Dubai in August and September.
Initially diagnosed with bronchitis in May, the condition lingered and, by the time of the ICC World Twenty20 that finished in Sri Lanka in October, Greig had tests that revealed a small lesion at the base of his right lung.
On his return to Australia he had fluid removed from the right lung and testing revealed he had lung cancer.
Last month, he spoke candidly about his illness to the Channel Nine commentary team during their coverage of the first Test between Australia and South Africa in Brisbane.
He tweeted on Christmas Day: “Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to you all. Would love to be at Test but son Tom and I will be tuned in.”
…“Tony Greig – A man you would run through brick walls for” BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew’s tribute